Shawn Colvin: All Fall Down

Singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin has made a very welcome return with her eighth studio album, All Fall Down. Collaborations with producer Buddy Miller (who first discovered Shawn three decades ago), Bill Frisell, Allison Krauss, Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris add some fresh country flourishes, but overall the new songs stay true to the authentic, heartfelt acoustic folk-pop style of Shawn’s early releases. It’s a beautiful piece of work.

There are those we say are our favorite artists to anyone who asks. For me, they are Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Mahler, Allison Crowe, Anais Mitchell, Xavier Rudd, Florence + The Machine and Flogging Molly. And there are those that our old friends know were once among our favorites. For me, they are The Dresden Dolls, Joan Osborne, Hole, Sarah McLachlan, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

Then there are those few artists whose music is so important and personal to us, that not even our closest companions can ever truly grasp what they really mean to us. For me, they are Tori Amos, Patti Smith, Fiona Apple, Heather Nova, Holly Cole, Concrete Blonde, Sinead Lohan, and Shawn Colvin.

Shawn Colvin’s 1992 album Fat City and 1994’s Cover Girl affected me in a way I hear older people talk about Bob Dylan or other legendary songwriters. Shawn’s own song “Monopoly” and her covers of “Someday” and “Twilight” were there for me when no one else was, sharing my heartbreak and helping me through some very dark times. Even Shawn herself was a source of comfort with her candid interviews about her ongoing struggles with bipolar disorder and depression – which is why I’m eager to read her new memoir, Diamond in the Rough.

All Fall Down lives up to that substantial legacy of well-crafted, poetic honesty. A collection of post-breakup (possibly post-divorce?) anthems, the album was born from impromptu, live, in-studio jams between Shawn, Miller and her other musician cohorts.

The album opens with its catchy title track, followed by Shawn’s stunning cover of Rod MacDonald’s gritty ode to NYC (or ode to gritty NYC?), “American Jerusalem.”

The heartbroken ballad “Seven Times the Charm,” co-written by Jakob Dylan and featuring backing vocals by Alison Krauss, is another standout track.

“Anne of The Thousand Days” brilliantly uses Henry VIII as a metaphor for a lover with a long list of ex’s.

Patty Griffin lent her pen to “Change is on the Way,” while “I Don’t Know You” was co-written with Allison Krauss.

Emmylou Harris sings harmony on the gorgeous, atmospheric “Up on that Hill.” The song is perfectly paired with a lovely rendition of B.W. Stevenson’s “On My Own” for the album’s finale.

You can stream the entire album on Shawn’s official site.

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Sarah McLachlan: Rarities, B-Sides, and Other Stuff 2

I’ve been a fan of Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan since long before her Lilith Fair days, stumbling upon her second album Solace in the early 1990s and shortly after devouring 1993’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. Though her recent releases haven’t captivated me so intensely, my fondness for her elegant voice hasn’t diminished over the years. Sarah released the first volume of Rarities, B-Sides & Other Stuff in 1996, and now gives us this second collection of soundtrack work, previously unreleased as well as live tracks, and collaborations with guests Cyndi Lauper, Bryan Adams, DMC, Emmylou Harris, The Perishers, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, DJ Tiësto, and Delerium.

The album opens with “Ordinary Miracle”, culled from the Charlotte’s Web soundtrack. Though I prefer Fisher‘s cover, McLachlan’s version is also lovely. Cyndi Lauper then joins McLachlan on the pretty acoustic duet of “Time After Time” that they recorded for Lauper’s The Body Acoustic.

Though I personally think that Holly Cole recorded the definitive cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” on her 1997 album Dear Dark Heart, McLachlan successfully captures the soft melancholy of the original. Allison Crowe‘s interpretation is good, too.

Bryan Adams guests on the Gretchen Peters tune “Don’t Let Go”, Emmylou Harris sings on the Lilith Fair edition of “Angel”, and The Perishers appear on the live recording “Pills”. The disc also includes McLachlan’s plucky rendition of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” from the I Am Sam soundtrack, the sweet “When She Loved Me” from Toy Story 2, and “The Rainbow Connection” from For The Kids.

I favor the original version of Delerium’s “Silence” from the Brokedown Palace soundtrack over this “In Search Of Sunrise” remix by DJ Tiësto. But I rarely like remixes. Also present are Sarah’s covers of the traditional “Prayer of St. Francis” and “Unchained Melody”.

Far more interesting than any of the above are Sarah’s a cappella cover of Paul Simon’s “Homeless” with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the marvelously bizarre transformation of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle” into the rap-rock song “Just Like Me” with rapper DMC.

I was not granted permission to share an mp3, but you can hear samples at the links below.

Sarah McLachlan Official Site

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Sarah McLachlan